Cactus and Corn Salsa


Cactus and Corn Salsa! A true southwestern salsa made with nopales cactus paddles, corn, green tomatoes, onions, and chiles.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Please welcome Amber Stott, founder of the Food Literacy Center, as she shares this truly delightful salsa made with nopales cactus paddles. We made it together the other day, so good! ~Elise

I’m a regular at my local farmers market. Farmers near Sacramento, California grow an impressive variety of food and every visit yields something new and tempting. A few years ago, I found a new favorite.

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Tucked away in a quiet corner behind mile high piles of pearly grapes and fat figs sat a man working quickly with a knife, sliding his blade across apple green paddles—cactus! (Also known as nopales, the young pads of the prickly pear cactus.)

The farmer sent me on my way with several crisp paddles and some cooking suggestions. I’ve been addicted to nopales ever since.

Nopales Cactus

Cactus has a crisp texture and tangy vegetal taste. Some folks compare it to green beans, but I disagree. It’s got a wonderful bright, citrusy note all its own. It’s also a slimy food, but don’t worry. It never feels sticky when you bite it.

When pairing cactus with green tomatoes, which also have a tart acidic flavor, you get an impressive salsa. This easy recipe combines several Southwestern flavors: chili peppers, cilantro, white onion, roasted corn, and even a splash of tequila (optional).

Cactus Corn Salsa

The salsa is best when left to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes to 1 hour after it’s made, and then eaten fresh. It will keep in the fridge for about a week.

Cactus and Corn Salsa Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 3 cups

If your farmers market doesn’t sell cactus, you can find it in most Latin grocery stores in the produce aisle, either whole or already prepped and chopped.

You can also buy it in a jar in the Mexican food aisle of your grocery store, but fresh paddles taste far better. You’ll want fresh paddles for this recipe.


  • 2 nopales cactus paddles, spikes removed*
  • 2 green tomatoes, cored and cut in half
  • 1/2 large, white onion, peeled and cut into 4 chunks
  • 2 jalapeño chiles, red or green, more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil plus more to grease baking sheet
  • 1 cup frozen corn**
  • 1 cup cilantro, stems removed
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime, about 1 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoons tequila, optional
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • Salt to taste
  • Tortilla chips, to serve

*This recipe is designed for the whole paddles, but you may be able to make it with bagged cut cactus for nopalitos if that's all that is available in the market. Just arrange them close together on the roasting pan while you roast the vegetables so they don't dry out.

**You can also use freshly cooked corn or grilled corn, stripped from the cob. In this case, skip the corn roasting in step 2, and just add to the salsa in the last step.


1 Prep cactus paddles: Heat oven to 425°F. Working with a large sharp knife with a fairly straight edge, scrape off any remaining prickles or nubs on the cactus paddles.

Cut the paddles crosswise into 1-inch thick strips. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.

2 Roast the cactus paddles, onion and jalapeños in oven: Place cactus, green tomatoes, white onion and jalapeños on the baking sheet in preheated 425°F oven for 12 minutes. The cactus should still be slightly crisp when pierced with a fork.

3 Roast the corn kernels: Heat a cast iron or stick-free skillet with 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat on the stove top. When the pan is heated, add frozen corn and spread out in an even layer. Do not stir the corn. Allow it to roast in the hot pan for about 2 to 3 minutes.

The corn should become browned and roasted. You can check by gently flipping a few pieces with the corner of a spatula.

When corn is browned, stir and roast for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Place corn in a small bowl and set aside.

4 Pulse in a food processor: Place the oven roasted vegetables in a food processor with the cilantro, garlic, lime juice, tequila, oregano and salt. Pulse until nearly smooth, about 30 seconds.

(Be careful when you remove the lid on the food processor—the heat released from the peppers will zoom up your nose and down your throat, so don’t stand directly over the open food processor.)

5 Stir in the roasted corn: Pour the salsa into a serving dish. Stir the roasted corn into the finished salsa. Allow to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

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Cactus Salad - here on Simply Recipes

Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions - here on Simply Recipes

Amber with cactus

Amber Stott

Amber K. Stott is the founding Executive Director of the nonprofit Food Literacy Center in Sacramento, California. She's been named “Food Revolution Hero” by Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. She blogs at Awake at the Whisk, and writes for Edible Sacramento magazine.

More from Amber

14 Comments / Reviews

No ImageCactus and Corn Salsa

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Arlene

    Am I the only person confused by the ingredient list? The 4th ingredient listed is 2 jalapenos…more or less to taste. The 9th ingredient is 2 hot chili peppers…more or less to taste. We like moderate/mild spicy so I used 1 jalapeno and 2 banana peppers. I assumed (apparently incorrectly) that the 9th ingredient was accidentally omitted from Step 2 so in they went. It is a little more than our usual so we’ll just add a dab of sour cream, or maybe it will “relax” with time. Looking forward to trying recipe again with less pepper.


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  2. j j

    are all cacti edible?

    Show Replies (1)
  3. george

    I have all the ingridients and those cactus padles with the cactus pear are actually growing in front of me and they are maybe tons of them because im on holiday in Sicily,Palermo.But unfortunately I have no blender can I puree the salsa with something else please tell me.

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  4. Mickey

    Just made this for dinner and used it as a sauce along side some pork tenderloin-just really superb. I posted my version and a link to you on my blog Kitchen Inferno. Thanks for such an unusual salsa.

  5. Mely

    Hello Elise,

    As a long time subscriber of your website, I was happy to see this recipe in my email. We need to showcase more the humble (Nopal) cactus paddles.

    I have several recipes in my blog but we can always use more creative ways to use the nopales like in this great salsa. Even for me is a new way to use nopales.

    Thanks for sharing it.


    Mely, I agree! I love cactus. So glad you like this recipe.Enjoy! ~Amber

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